Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Favorite Things, 2016 Edition

Now into February, I bring you my annual favorite things list from 2016! With so many bigger things to worry about as we start 2017, this list feels rather minor. It's more culture-focused than gift-focused this year, and I hope it provides some entertaining links and maybe something new that you'll like as much as I do.


The Good Place is the best show. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) dies and goes to the Good Place, which is run by architect Michael (Ted Danson). She realizes it's a mistake - she's not the Eleanor who conducted humanitarian aid trips in central Asia - and chaos ensues. The diverse ensemble cast matches Ted Danson's incredible energy and comedic ability, and the character development and structure of the Good Place provoke fascinating questions about the meaning of goodness. All episodes are currently available for streaming on!

Image result for the good place

Utopia (American title: Dreamland) follows the workers at Australia's Nation Building Authority, which manages major infrastructure projects. A wonderful satire for anyone who has worked in a large bureaucracy, this is well worth adding to your Netflix queue.

The Americans is absorbing and suspenseful. It's so well-written and well-acted that I occasionally have to remind myself that it's fiction. Set in the 1980s, it follows Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, KGB agents who have been living undercover in Washington, DC, for decades.

Because I had to replace Nicole Cliffe's Link Roundups somehow

Two Bossy Dames is a pop culture newsletter sent every Friday night, written by two librarians that I hope to befriend someday. Sophie Brookover and Margaret H. Willison are smart, witty women with impeccable taste. Sign up for the Brooklyn Nine Nine gifs, stay for the music recommendations.

If you're interested in food, Snack Cart is for you. Josh Gee (my friend Hope's brother) curates the best food writing from around the US each Friday, providing thoughtful commentary along the way. I wouldn't have found this oral history of the Cheesecake Factory, this review wondering whether some restaurants are unreviewable, or this food writer's cooking lesson with a Syrian grandmother in Staten Island otherwise. It's a great weekly reminder about the food's place in culture and each installment adds to the list of restaurants I want to try in Chicago, Boston, New York, and LA.

Meryl William's The Sleeper Hit is great for writers. Meryl writes freelance, hosts a podcast, and rounds up calls for pitches. Her commitment to writing and her frank talk about successes and setbacks is inspiring. Definitely check her out on the Billfold as well!

The Toast

I was extremely sad when the Toast shut down in July. I started reading a year or so after it launched, so I still have archives to go back to. Here are a few of my favorites:

If Barack Obama Were Your Dad

What Goes Through Your Mind: On Nice Parties and Casual Racism

Friendship on the Agenda

The entire Western Art History series

If Stanley Tucci Were Your Boyfriend

The Negro Motorist Green Book and Black America's Perpetual Search For A Home

Even Lumberjacks Deserve Lotion: Gender in the Locker Room

From the Desk of the Director, Cold War Reenactment Society 

There are so many more articles that made me reconsider how I read, what voices I seek out, and what narratives I haven't been hearing.

Things on the Internet
A sampling of favorites:

IntersectShihNality - My friend Terri's new blog! She inspires me daily to push myself to be a better person.

My Life in the Romance Novel Industry by Kayleigh Hughes

My Son, the Prince of Fashion by Michael Chabon

Why Don't You Just Call the Cops? by Matthew Desmond and Andrew V. Papachristos - I heard Matthew Desmond speak at the local bookstore last spring and am looking forward to reading Evicted.

You Girls Having Fun? by Sara Benincasa

Did We Fail? by Eric Reed

We broke the Panama Papers story. Here's how to investigate Donald Trump. by Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer

The Most American Thing by Jia Tolentino

Alternatives to Resting Bitch Face by Sarah Harlan


I started writing short book reviews for the American Library Association's Booklist in September, and it has been one of the highlights of the year. (It feels so cool to see my name in print!) Here are a mix of books I loved that are old and new, one forthcoming in early 2017:

The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria by Alia Malek (February 2017)
A beautifully written family history describing life under an authoritarian regime, US-born Malek also explores the origins of the Syrian civil war and her life in Damascus before her family urged her to leave. This is essential reading.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
I've been thinking about this short story collection since I read it over the summer. Her stories reminded me how great storytellers can say so much about a character with a few gestures. 

And the Monkey Learned Nothing: Dispatches from a Life in Transit by Tom Lutz
A book of short stories - just a couple pages each - highlight small moments from Tom Lutz's travels around the globe. The title story made me laugh out loud, while others illustrated the things that make traveling so essential. The structure reminds me of Pieces for the Left Hand, one of my old favorites.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl's memoir of her first years as a New York Times food critic made me rethink the value of criticism and food's place in our lives. For me, food writing is the literary equivalent of hot cocoa and a warm bath on a snowy day.

What were some of your favorite things from the past year?


  1. Hi! Thank you so much for including Two Bossy Dames in this round-up; Margaret & I really appreciate it!

    1. Of course! Thank you for the work you put into the newsletter!